Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
The Australian Sister Cities Conference, Darwin, NT, 5 July 1999: address.

Download WordDownload Word



Senator the Hon Ian Macdonald 

Minister for Regional Services, Territories and Local Government


5 July 1999 




(Darwin, NT)


Thank you very much Councillor Kevin Hill, the President of the Australian
Sister Cities Association; and to my good friend the Lord Mayor, Alderman George Brown; to Councillor Tilly, the Chairman of the Organising Committee; to other Mayors and Councillors; to other guests, particularly those who have come from overseas to be with us today; ladies and gentlemen.

It is a particular delight for me to be with you today after three weeks in our National Capital in Parliament with minus seven-degree temperatures every morning. Being in Darwin is almost like being in heaven. And as a North Queenslander myself, I understand just how fortunate we are in living in the northern part of Australia. The theme of your conference is 'Dare to be Different'. I thought I would be very different today. Not only am I wearing a coat, but a tie as well, and I know that is pretty different for Darwin.

But I am also particularly pleased to be here in relation to my portfolio responsibilities in the Federal Government. I am the Minister for Regional Services, and of course Darwin, whilst a capital city, is very much part of regional Australia - the part of Australia that the Federal Government is concentrating on to provide services for people who don’t live in our major capital cities. And as well, I am Minister for Territories, and if and when Darwin and the Northern Territory ever get around to doing something about Statehood, then I am the Minister who will deal with them more closely as they move from an Australian Territory to a State of Australia. And of course my responsibilities as Federal Minister for Local Government mean that in many, many ways I do interact with councils right around Australia.

It doesn’t seem all that long ago that I was with you at Port Stephens at the conference that was held not long after I had been appointed. And so, it’s, as I say, great to be back with you again.

I'd especially like to welcome the youth delegates who have come from all over Australia to this Conference. It is pleasing to once again see that the Australian Sister Cities Association is encouraging young people to be involved with the Sister Cities movement. They are of course the future of the Australian Sister Cities movement.

I’ve been delighted to provide sponsorship through the Local Government Development Programme of $5,000 to the Darwin City Council to assist the youth delegates in offsetting some of the costs of travel to the Top End. And as one of the speakers earlier this morning said, I found that a much more worthwhile use for the Federal taxpayers money, then perhaps sponsoring a dinner. Although some of you delegates may not agree with that.

But I thought it was easier than having to have your President buy up options to the dinner that I offered last time, simply to try and raise money to get the youth delegates here. And I thought giving the $5,000 directly to their travel costs would be a good way to show the Federal Government’s support of what you do.

Whatever we are doing to build global links and understanding across cultures, it’s young people who have the greatest opportunity to build a global community that is more understanding and tolerant of differences. To my mind, young people have the greatest opportunities to 'dare to be different' by creating a truly new future, without the sometimes limiting preconceptions of previous generations.

I was at a dinner a few months ago in Canberra for the ABC's 'Heywire' programme, which targets young people living in regional Australia. It provides an opportunity for young people to have their stories of living in regional Australia professionally produced and broadcast on the ABC network. I’m pleased again this year to be providing some $20,000 in sponsorship to the ABC to assist in that 'Heywire' programme again.

It was at that 'Heywire' dinner last year that I was reminded how young people are actively working through many of the hard issues that those of us who are older and more experienced sometimes find very difficult to handle. I heard personal stories of people affected by suicide, by drug use, by intolerance, and by the economic decline of rural communities.

But underlining all of those stories was a genuine concern for the future of humanity, and a determination to change things for the better. Governments can tirelessly pursue problems like drug use and unemployment, but at a personal level these issues some times seem insurmountable. But when you look at the depth of insight and understanding young people have today, and the willingness they have to participate in making a difference to the communities they live in, you know that the future is in good hands.

Thanks to groups such as the Darwin Youth Sister Cities Organisation, we can rely on young people to continue to inject optimism and innovation into our communities, and the Sister City movement, right across the world. This helps provide youth with the opportunity of ‘daring to be different’ by being part of a local community that links into the international community.

Hailing from North Queensland as I do - an equally beautiful part of our country - and being a former Councillor on the Burdekin Shire, I know how important the links between people from smaller communities are, whether the links are within Australia or with other communities in other parts of the world. These links not only make the world a smaller, and often more friendly place, but they have a real impact on the social and economic well-being of the communities we live in.

With over 460 sister city arrangements in 36 countries, Australia is an active member of the international community, and indeed the global economy. And to further strengthen these links, we also see partnerships between cities within Australia. These links - at an international, national and local level - make for a robust network of sharing experiences, expertise, information and knowledge, and promoting global partnerships and cross-cultural understanding.

Many of these crucial economic and social links are actually established by people like yourselves at a local level, through Local Government, through Sister City Associations, and local community groups such as Apex, Rotary, Lions and Youth for Understanding. The work of these groups - and the partnerships between them - are also crucial in growing the Sister Cities movement.

I also know that many of you contribute your own time, and even your own money, to support the movement - not to mention welcoming people from other countries into your homes. Without these efforts at a local level, Australia would not have a Sister Cities movement, let alone many of the economic and social benefits we all enjoy as a direct result of these partnerships.

At last year’s Conference, those of you who were there might remember that I spoke about the Murrindindi Council in regional Victoria which had just won a National Award for Innovation in Local Government. Like many other local councils outside the larger cities, it is one of those councils that is constantly on the lookout for new ways of making sure their community survives in an increasingly complex economic and social era.

That council recognised that participating in global markets, particularly in the Asia-Pacific region, was a key to economic growth and building the region's capacity to sustain its community. A strategy was developed to encourage local farmers to diversify their crops.

With the assistance of the Federal Government's Supermarket to Asia programme that council facilitated the development of trial crops of the horseradish-like plant Wasabi and Green Tea for the Japanese market. Local farmers work side by side with the staff from the largest green tea supplier in Japan to adapt and develop special propagation and farming methods for the Australian climate.

This creative approach has led to more practical outcomes - last month, I understand, the Murrindindi Shire signed a Sister Cities Agreement with the Boonah Shire in Queensland. Boonah Shire found out about Murrindindi's crop diversification and economic plan because of them receiving one of the National Awards for Innovation in Local Government, and they contacted the Murrindindi Council to find out more.

Both areas have similar economic circumstances and the Sister Cities arrangement is a formal agreement and a formal acknowledgment of their willingness to learn from each other and to implement leading practice in the development of their Shires. I'm sure that this Sister City relationship will generate even more possibilities for both regions.

So while our international partnerships and cultural exchanges are a crucial part of our national objectives, local Sister City relationships on a State or regional basis are also important for sharing expertise and building understanding between communiti es.

The Murrindindi project, like many other trade-based projects, is enhanced by the existing relationships and shared histories we have with other countries - relationships that have been forged and maintained by groups such as yourself.

As our number one trading partner, and a country with which we have the most number of Sister City relationships, it's easy to see why we are able to successfully establish partnerships with trading giants like Japan.

But the rewards aren't just economic. The benefits of these relationships occur at all levels, including expanding our understanding and goodwill towards others in the global community.

Here in the North, we are ideally positioned to develop Sister City relationships with countries closer to home, like those in the Asia-Pacific region. And I have to congratulate the Darwin City Council for establishing some of it’s Sister City relationships within this region, namely with Ambon in Indonesia which was mentioned earlier today, and with Milikapiti in the Melville Islands.

In the case of Ambon, there are tangible cultural and economic benefits for those of you who live in Darwin, such as education exchange, and sporting and cultural events. And as a nation, we benefit from stronger cultural, diplomatic and trade relations with Indonesia, our closest neighbour.

In the North, Townsville, from the area from where I come from, is another winner which has a Sister City relationship with, in this case, Korea. This linkage has been very important in establishing the Korean Zinc, or Suns Metals, project in Townsville and it is providing the region with literally thousands of jobs and an export industry that is worth billions of dollars to Australia each year.

There are so many factors in favour for developing stronger links between countries in our region. First, the geographical proximity and easy access - particularly through the Internet and regional radio and television - are key advantages. Secondly, we operate in a similar regional economy.

Sister City relationships pro vide us with a focus for reflecting on the benefits we reap from the Sister City relationships - whether cultural or trade-based. These relationships have been brought about by the local community, its elected representatives and community groups, and they provide a foundation for our Government to continue to expand its foreign policy and trade relations with other countries.

Of course, the Federal Government also provides other assistance to further the development of good relations with our neighbours in the Asia Pacific region. Aus-Aid, in particular, has many projects that aim to support the sustainable development of countries in the region. The overall well-being of the Asia-Pacific region is dependent on the well-being of the countries within it.

The National Office of Local Government is also contributing to the development of countries in our region through best practice exchange programmes with Fiji and Papua New Guinea. These exchange programmes aim to build the capacity of Local Government in these countries in managing a range of key social, economic and environmental issues.

Countries such as Papua New Guinea, Malaysia, Indonesia and Korea, and China require our ongoing support and goodwill at many different levels. There are many things to gain from such exchanges and links, including peaceful relations and economic security in our region.

Once again, I urge all of you to consider the possibilities that more Sister City relationships in our region could generate for us right now, and the possibilities they will offer our communities in the future.

Can I finish, Mr Chairman, by congratulating your organisation, the Australian Sister Cities Association and the Australian Youth Sister Cities Association, on coordinating and organising this important forum. I'd like to thank everyone here today for the time you give and devote, and I wish you all a very successful conference.

I will, Mr Chairman, should anyone be interested in buying it, donate another lunch in Canberra. Your Chairman, who paid a lot of money last year hasn’t yet had the advantage - or disadvantage perhaps - but hasn’t yet been able to get to Canberra, but I lo ok forward to hosting him to lunch or dinner when he does arrive. And perhaps if you could on my behalf auction a dinner if there is anyone silly enough wanting to have a meal with a politician in Canberra - and there may not be many. Perhaps you could auction it as which one doesn’t want a luncheon might be more useful. But for what it’s worth I make that available, and I hope that possibly I might be able to host one of you to a meal in Parliament House at some time in the future.

Kevin, could I conclude by wishing you all on this specific day a Happy Sister Cities Day.

Thank you.





jy  1999-07-28  10:54